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Saturday, 05 May 2018 11:25

Medway UTC: Abject Failure -OFSTED

Further Update 2nd July: for anyone who thinks the concept of UTCs is still viable, try the latest UTC Ofsted failure and the latest closure (will Medway be much longer??)

Further update sentence in blue below.

Updated: Tuesday 8th May. See important comment below by Ita Caufield.

Ofsted has judged the new Medway University Technical College to have failed its Inspection on every count, some of its main criticisms being levelled at the members of the Governing Body who 'abrogated their responsibility'. Medway UTC is one of a new breed of 14-19 schools dropped in on existing school systems without thought for their impact elsewhere, with a horrendous record of success including five of the 26 inspected by Ofsted being placed in Special Measures. A further eight have closed through failure to attract students. The evidence below shows that Medway UTC is surely en route to be the eighth.

The Medway UTC opened in September 2015 in £12 million purpose built premises, sponsored by local businesses, Higher Education Institutions and Medway Council.

Medway UTC

Ofsted found that: there is a culture of low expectation across the UTC; current progress in all year groups very weak; poor GCSE and A Level results last year as a result of weak teaching; the curriculum is too narrow; there is no provision for physical education or religious education in the school; behaviour in lessons is poor and sometimes disruptive. These are the consequences of: governors failing to offer sufficient challenge for leaders or training for leaders and teachers to carry out their duties effectively; of significant turbulence in staffing; leaders development plans being not fit for purpose; and failure by teachers to match assessment to the learning needs of pupils with the result that the most able, those with SEN, and the disadvantaged make very poor progress.

I have never seen or read anything like the torrent of criticism heaped upon the quality of teaching in the school, as exemplified below. Frankly one would not expect such negative comments to be uttered about untrained instructors dropped in for their first term in a school. Academies and UTCs are not required to employ qualified teachers, and this report suggests they may have taken advantage of this loophole in full. I am astonished that Ofsted did not report on the issue, given there appears a complete breakdown in quality, with no redeeming factors identified.

 The previous Principal of the UTC, Dr Karon Buck, previously Vice Principal at Leigh Academies Trust, left at Christmas to become CEO of an International School in Abu Dhabi. Perhaps unsurprisingly, her up to date c.v. fails to mention the three years at Medway UTC, offering instead that she was an Ofsted Inspector during this time. However, a blog page elsewhere, details the deleted LinkedIn page and comments about Dr Buck.  Her departure enabled the appointment of Paul Cottam as Interim Principal from his post as Deputy Head at The Howard School, which has also been engaged as External Consultant. Not surprisingly, the reputation of the UTC is rock bottom,with only 278 of its 600 places filled. On a rare lighter note, the Wikipedia entry contains two startling 'facts' on its description of the school site!

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Governance
The failed Sponsors of the UTC are represented on the Governing Body as Trustees. They fall into several groups: employers; training and further and higher education representatives; and Medway Council. With the Council represented by Les Wicks, a previous Cabinet Member for Education, there appears no expertise in managing schools which may have led to Ofsted's view that "Governors came with a wealth of useful knowledge and experience from their business and educational backgrounds. They worked hard to oversee the successful building of the Medway UTC and its impressive facilities. However, they have failed to adequately track or challenge the standard of education within the school since it opened. Consequently, they have presided over a failing school". No ambiguity as to who is responsible for the calamity there! The sponsors are: BAE Systems; Delphi Diesel Systems; Bouygues UK; Kreston Reeves (Accountants); BAM Construction; University of Greenwich; Mid Kent College; Engineering Construction Industry Training Board; Royal School of Military Engineering; BAM Construction and Medway Council, all carrying a joint responsibility for the failure to offer a decent education and future to their students. The University of Greenwich has hardly covered itself in glory, as it also sponsored Greenwich UTC which closed in 2016. 
 
According to the UTC website: 'Students work alongside the University of Greenwich and some of the region’s largest employers to gain the skills and confidence to succeed and achieve their future goals. Students will develop skills that employers demand and will develop the qualifications, knowledge, skills and understanding to access further and higher education. As a result, they will be students, apprentices and employees of choice' . Unfortunately, employers  such as the sponsors will demand better educated employees than the UTC is providing!
 
Councillor Andrew Mackness, Medway Council Cabinet Member for Children's Services, is quoted as saying: "I am very disappointed with the outcome of the inspection and in the performance of the UTC under previous leadership'. Amazingly, he appears not to have noticed Medway Council's responsibility for the UTC over the past three years as sponsors. So no acceptance of any blame and no apology there - what's new!
 
The Report: Teaching
Teaching is criticised on all sides: Across the curriculum, teachers' questioning skills are notably poor; there is a culture of low expectation acrossthe UTC; As a result of weak teaching, pupils’ achievement in GCSEs and in A levels was particularly poor last year;teachers do not use assessment to design activities at the right level to match the learning needs of pupils; Difficulties with recruitment and a significantturnover of teaching staff have hindered attempts to improve theschool; During the first two years of the school, some teachers were never observed teaching by senior leaders; (external consultants) quickly identified that poor-quality teaching, learning and assessment are widespread across the school; subject leaders have not been able to recognise and address weaknesses in their subjectareas; Newly qualified teachers have received far toolittle support, guidance andtraining; teachers are not well enough informed with information to ensure that they plan lessons and activities that meet these pupils’ needs (disadvantaged pupils and those who have SEN and/or disabilities); No additional information has been provided to teachers about the barriers faced by disadvantaged pupils they teach; Teaching is not effectively planned to meet the needs of the pupils at the school. All too frequently, pupils all get the same work, regardless of their starting points and learning needs. Support for the least able, the most able and pupils who have SEN and/or disabilities is inadequate. Teachers’ low expectations and lack of challenge mean that too many pupils do not reach their fullpotential; Too often teachers explain concepts without even checking or probing pupils’ own knowledge and understanding; pupils are not challenged to discuss, debate or reflect upon their learning; Where teachers give feedback to pupils, commonly it is restricted to simple praise for completion of tasks. Too little attention is given to addressing pupils’ misconceptions; The teaching of English and science in key stage 4 is poor with all groups making inadequate progress; Errors in their work are not addressed and incomplete work remains unchecked; Staff do not consistently apply the school’s behaviour policy. Inspectors observed many examples in lessons where poor behaviour was unchallenged. Sixth form: Students expressed their frustration at weaknesses in teaching;Teachers are not able to plan appropriately challenging work for students. This is because they do not know what students already understand and can do. Teachers’ questioning skills are as weak in the sixth form as they are in the rest of the school.   
RIC 6 Masthead August 2017
 
The Report: Further Points
 Any Ofsted Report has to mention Good features of the school identified. In the case of the UTC it is very simple: Safeguarding is effective; Outcomes in the construction and engineering courses in the sixth form are higher than elsewhere in the school; the input from the Howard School is having an effect, but too early to see any impact on pupils progress. You will have to look hard to find any further positives.
 
The Report is worth reading in full to appreciate the absolute depth of the failure. A selection of further examples: there are no teaching assistants in the school, including any to support the education of disadvantaged pupils and those with SEN or disabilities, although additional funding is provided for this purpose; Provision for personal, social and health education is particularly weak; In a College supposedly committed to preparing students for careers in  Engineering, Construction and Design careers education and guidance are weak; Across the curriculum, teachers' questioning skills are notably poor. Pupils'  confidence in the core subjects of English mathematics and science is low; in pupils' books there are frequent examples of  unfinished work, graffiti. and/or torn out pages; pupils in all years reported that staff do not always follow up on teasing and bullying;The rate of fixed term exclusions is high; Over time, leadership of the sixth form has been very weak; The quality of leaders' communication and partnerships with local employers is variable.
The Future of Medway UTC 
The big question is does Medway UTC have a future? With £12 million spent on its plush premises, the finances of running it with falling numbers look perilous. Currently there are just 70 students in Year 10, the  year of entry, compared with 120 the previous year (this falling to 96 in Year 11) as the word has got out. Similarly there are now just 44 students in Year 12, down from 78 in 2017. The Planned Admission number is 120. This Inspection Report could well be the final nail in the coffin but what then?
 
Over in Dartford, the Leigh UTC which opened the year before, having been built for a Planned Admission Number of 150, has also failed each year to attract students to fill half of its places. I recall a discussion I had with the Editor of 'Kent on Sunday' after I wrote an article which highlighted this. The Leigh UTC invited him up for a visit to persuade him I was on the wrong track and, whilst impressed with what was going on, he could not but observe how the few students rattled around in the impressive premises, such small classes making it much easier to produce good results. A positive Ofsted Inspection in 2017 has helped numbers this year, although it managed to avoid any reference to the small numbers, which was surely of relevance (including 38 out of 150 in Year 10)! Possibly as a result of the Ofsted, the intake has risen to 73 students in Year 10, although the increase no doubt included bail outs from the highly unpopular Ebbsfleet Academy, the picture being made to look better with the PAN reduced to 120.  This potential failure on financial grounds has been sorted by the introduction of a new entry of 120 pupils in Year 7 called the Inspiration Academy, which has proved popular. However, when these reach Year 10, the concept of the UTC will presumably collapse as the principle of students making a conscious decision to move to a new vocational institution will vanish.
 
Is such a solution likely in Medway? When the Greenwich UTC closed, it was converted into a 'normal seconday school'. I think this is improbable as government has already agreed two new Medway Free Schools potentially for September 2019 although, like most others, probably delayed. These are the Medway Academy, a six form entry secondary school, to be sponsored by the Leigh Academy Trust, and the Maritime Academy, an all through comprehensive. Of course one solution would be to offer the premises as a site of one of these two new free schools. Currently, there are 200 non-selective places in Year 7 free across Medway, so with the two new schools, it will be many years before there is an actual need for the UTC provision. 
 
A fascinating government document I came across whilst researching this article explored the impact on other local schools of the then proposed UTC. It identified three undersubscribed and underperforming schools that could have suffered with high impact on numbers: St John Fisher Catholic; Bishop of Rochester Academy (now Victory Academy); and Hundred of Hoo Academy.  I have looked at the figures for Year 9 moving into Year 10 for each Medway non-selective and, of the 50 places lost across the eleven 11 schools, there are just two which have lost double figures over the year, Hundred of Hoo Academy with 27 pupils leaving and the Howard School with 12. St John Fisher has lost two and Victory Academy with its growing reputation, good GCSE performance and Good Ofsted actually attracting eight.
 
Certainly, we cannot rely on Medway Council solving the problem. Their expertise in improving standards has already been criticised by Ofsted a number of time, the performance of Medway controlled schools has been appalling, and the policy of solving this by encouraging all schools to become academies is an abdication of the Council's responsibility for education. All this begs the question of what Medway Council as a sponsor, has contributed to any small success the UTC  has achieved, and how much responsibility should they take for its failure? Perhaps Mr Wicks is the person to ask.   
 
All this shows that  the Medway UTC could and should happily be phased out with no trace apart from a very expensive building, to the absolutely benefit of young people's education in Medway, joining the other seven which have already gone. On a wider scale surely it is now time to ask if the whole concept of the University Technical College should be phased out. 
Last modified on Monday, 02 July 2018 19:02

9 comments

  • Comment Link Monday, 14 May 2018 19:23 posted by Medway Council tax payer and parent

    Medway Council Education: failed its primary school children - as confirmed by OFSTED and League Table results; failed its children with Special Education Needs and Disabilities, as confirmed by OFSTED Inspection failing the Council; failed to offer a fit for purpose Medway Test; now failed the children at the new Medway UTC. What are they good for. PETER: Good question. All these issues are spelled out at length on my website.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 09 May 2018 22:37 posted by Stephanie W

    We fell, along with our daughter, for the Medway UTC propaganda. What a disaster. She was doing well at a good school but wanted to be an engineer, working with other motivated children. Instead she found herself in a class of deadbeats, no interest in learning and teachers who weren't even capable of basic discipline, let alone teaching skills. She stuck it for nearly a year - you can imagine the trauma- then applied to go back. The school was full and we lost our appeal to go back. She is now at another far less popular school but has lost her zest for learning and life. How many other careers have these great industrialists and Medway Council destroyed? Of course they will all walk away with no sanction. PETER. I am so sorry, but sadly don't expect anyone to apologise.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 09 May 2018 14:02 posted by Sheila S

    Don't assume all is well under the new leadership. To be charitable, they can't cope with the appalling standards they have found. Certainly there is no evidence Mr Cottam and co know what to do about them.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 09 May 2018 12:53 posted by Lola

    You are spot on in your post. It is such a pity - we moved to Medway because my partner wanted to work at the UTC Medway. It was sold as a new and exciting government initiative. In reality it turned out to be a badly managed concept attracting the worst students and plagued with poor leadership. After trying his best, trying everything and destroyed by stress, my partner has left, thank God. Medway Council really needs to get on top of education management, primary schools are also not managed well in the area.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 08 May 2018 21:41 posted by ita caufield

    Just to advise that 8 UTC'S have closed - including Greenwich UTC which I believe was sponsored by the University of Greenwich!
    George Osborne has recently told a hearing of the Education Select Committee that the model of seeking to move children at the age of 14 has not worked, whilst the main Education Department has confirmed that only one UTC is currently planned PETER: Thank you for this. I have made adjustments to the article to pick this up. Clearly, the writing is on the wall for UTCs, aided in this case by the incompetence of the Medway UTC Governors and leaders.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 08 May 2018 13:17 posted by Escapee

    The Buck never stopped there! Karon presided over the chaos you describe so well. I left as no one would listen to my concerns. Like so many others I am now concerned that my career, unlike Dr Buck's, will be tarnished by its association with the UTC. PETER: And how many other new teachers vocational aims have been ruined by, to quote yet again: ' Induction programmes were poor, training weak and too little focus was placed on developing teaching and learning'. As regular browsers of this site will know, I have major concerns about the wastage through failure to develop and nurture of new teachers. The country cannot afford such profligacy.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 08 May 2018 02:30 posted by Gills Fan

    Medway Football Club Twitter Account

    05/05/2018, 22:54
    Chairman Paul Scally announces that @medway_council will be the club's sponsor for the 2018/19 season. #Gills pic.twitter.com/bDn0H5YfRM.


    Clearly Medway Council has taken its eyes off the ball! PETER: Well, the council does have to prioritise.

  • Comment Link Monday, 07 May 2018 22:11 posted by J Gazet

    I worked briefly in a UTC to try to help it solve staffing and curriculum problems and what you have written rings true. At almost every level the lack of planning or any expertise in management was overwhelming. Huge amounts of money had been spent on poorly laid out classrooms and labs and equipment that was never used, yet there were no reprographic facilities (for example). There were some extremely able students in mathematics and engineering but the whole idea was deeply flawed. Not least - why would any parent pull there child out of a school at the end of year 9 if they were happy and successful to study such a narrowly focussed curriculum (and one which is available in most schools)? At a time when there is a chronic shortage of funds for maintained schools the setting up of UTCs is surely a massive mistake and one to which politicians need to held to account.

  • Comment Link Monday, 07 May 2018 18:37 posted by Les Wicks Victim

    So Les Wicks is involved in yet another debacle after his inglorious reign as Cabinet Member for Education at Medway Council, failing to investigate any of the scandals that you exposed on this website, seeing Medway primary schools sink to the bottom of the national league tables, and watching idly by as they turned in the worst OFSTED grades in the country. Yet another fine sinecure (presumably with expenses!), where it is clear that he had not the ability, the skills or the inclination to stop the shiny UTC sinking to the bottom, using the talent that did for all the other schools and children for which he was responsible. PETER: What else is there to say.

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